HOUSTON – Before every Texas execution, Michael Graczyk has asked to talk to the convict scheduled to die. If the person said yes, he would visit death row to interview and take a photo of them. He also attempted to contact the family members of the person killed by the condemned inmate and the lawyers involved.
Graczyk retires Tuesday after a 45-year career in which he observed more than 400 executions. A selection of the images and people Graczyk found to be particularly memorable:
HENRY LEE LUCAS
Lucas was a former confessed serial killer serving a sentence hundreds of years in length after being rescued from death row by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. He died of natural causes in 2001.
Lucas, 64 when he died, was best known for making bogus confessions that prompted law officers nationwide to clear hundreds of unsolved killings. Known as the notorious one-eyed ex-drifter, he was narrowly saved from execution three years earlier when Bush commuted a death sentence to life in prison because of flimsy evidence in his capital case.
After the commutation, Lucas predicted an "80 percent chance" he would walk free someday. He didn't.
When Rodriguez was executed in 2008, he became the first of the infamous Texas 7 gang of escapees put to death for killing a suburban Dallas police officer on Christmas Eve 2000, nearly two weeks after they broke out of a South Texas prison by overpowering prison workers, stealing their clothes, grabbing guns from the prison armory and fleeing in a stolen truck.
With the escapees already being sought nationwide, the officer slaying intensified the manhunt that culminated with their capture a month later in Colorado. One of the escapees killed himself as police closed in. Rodriguez volunteered for execution.
Kenneth Foster was spared in 2007 by then-Gov. Rick Perry after the Texas parole board recommended his commutation to a life sentence. The decision came hours before Foster was scheduled to die for a 1996 slaying. The board had made a recommendation like that only once before, and Perry ignored it and the inmate was put to death. At the time, Foster became the only Texas inmate to win a commutation from Perry without the prodding of a court.
Death penalty opponents had launched a public-relations campaign to save Foster because they objected to Texas's so-called law of parties, a unique statute in which each participant of a capital crime is held equally responsible. Perry said he didn't object to Foster's execution on those grounds. Instead, he said he opposed trying capital murder defendants together, as Foster and a co-defendant were.
By the time Cleve Foster was put to death in 2012, he'd received at least three reprieves from the U.S. Supreme Court, including two when he was within hours of execution for the slaying of a 30-year-old woman near Fort Worth in 2000.
The former Army recruiter was known on death row as "Sarge," and was one of two men in Fort Worth tied to the slayings nine years ago of two women, one who had fled Sudan and the other a Texas Tech honors graduate.
Foster insisted a friend who died of cancer was responsible for the slaying that put him on death row. Foster spent nearly two decades in the Army, reached the rank of sergeant first class and was deployed to the Middle East during Desert Storm.
Bower, a chemical salesman from Arlington, Texas, was arrested and charged with capital murder after four men were found dead Oct. 8, 1983. Prosecutors built a circumstantial case that Bower stole an aircraft and shot the men as they showed up at the hangar where Bower was to complete the purchase. Parts of the plane later were found at Bower's home.
Bower initially lied to his wife and to investigators. He eventually acknowledged being at the ranch, but said the victims were alive and well when he left with the disassembled plane he had purchased, although he could not produce a receipt for the transaction. His attorneys suggested years later that other men involved in a drug deal gone bad were responsible for the shootings. The 67-year-old Bower became the oldest person executed in Texas when he was put to death in 2015. And only one other executed prisoner in Texas had served more time on death row.
Jerry Hartfield had been in prison since 1977, a year after he was convicted of the 1976 capital murder of a female ticketing agent at a bus station southwest of Houston, and sentenced to die. That conviction was erased on appeal because of an error in sentencing. State law at the time required a new trial even if the mistake did not involve the matter of guilt.
The retrial did not take place. It's unknown why Hartfield drifted into legal limbo. For reasons that are not clear, the judicial machinery broke down. In 2006, a fellow inmate aware of Hartfield's situation helped him file a writ of habeas corpus that revived his prosecution.
A 2015 trial for Hartfield resulted in another conviction and mandatory life sentence. But an appeals court voided the conviction, saying essentially that too much time had passed for a proper trial.